Culver issues 2018 State of the County report

The year 2017 was a special one of celebration and accomplishment for Wicomico County.

Opportunities to communicate our achievements are normally few and far between. I would like to take a moment to highlight the abundant accomplishments that have taken place in my first three years in office.

Even more exciting are the numerous accomplishments coming in the years to come.

Strong financial report

The county recognized another successful year in 2017 for finances and economic development.

Our audited financial statements showed a surplus of $2.8 million generated by continuing strong local income tax revenue and prudent spending

Employment in Wicomico County grew to historic highs with 53,596 jobs reported. These jobs generated $50,749,316 in local income tax receipts.

Real estate began to recover in 2017. This year’s real property assessments showed improvement and signaled the end of the downward trend that we saw during the Great Recession.

New housing starts (building permits), likewise showed improvement year over year. These trends contributed to an increase in our property base and resulting property tax collections of $1.17 million above fiscal year 2016.

On Dec. 12, the county successfully sold $8.985 million in tax-free general obligation bonds at a true interest cost of 2.56 percent and also refinanced 2009 bonds at that same rate resulting in nearly $1 million in interest savings for the county.

The bonds sold will be utilized to finance several county projects including: $4.228 million for West Salisbury Elementary School; $1,005,000 for projects at East Salisbury School; $400,000 for Mardela Middle/High School Track; $825,000 for Beaver Run renovation or replacement, and; $1.65 million for Delmar Middle School systemic renovation. Other projects include: $1 million for a Public Works/Roads Division projects; $600,000 for Public Safety building, and; $92,000 for a new phone system for the Government Office Building.

The major credit rating agencies all reaffirmed the County’s already strong credit ratings citing AA-plus rating from S&P Global Ratings, an AA rating from Fitch Ratings, and an Aa2 rating from Moody’s Investors Service; the latter two are equivalent.

S&P Global Ratings commented, “We view the county’s management as very strong, with “strong” financial policies and practices under our Financial Management Assessment methodology, indicating financial practices are strong, well embedded and likely sustainable.”

Fitch wrote, “Given Fitch’s assessment of the county’s inherent budget flexibility as superior, with solid control over revenues and moderate spending flexibility, Fitch expects the county to manage through economic downturns while maintaining a high level of fundamental financial flexibility.”

Record employment

As part of one of the fastest-growing Metropolitan Statistical Areas of the country, Wicomico County reached record employment this past year and as of this writing, our unemployment rate stands at 4.9 percent.

In conjunction with Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development, we were pleased to offer assistance to Toroid & Hand RDI Wire and Cable. Both firms operate in the cable harness and electronics business and together, project one hundred new jobs over the next several years.

We also assisted the principals of Seaford-based Craig Technologies in their acquisition and merger with Manufacturing Support Industries of Salisbury with the resulting operation based in Salisbury under the MSI name.

MSI is a precision machining company that anticipates 42 new jobs in the corning years.

We finalized the former terminal lease with Piedmont Airlines as the firm outgrew existing space and welcomed the announcement by Nat Phen International, an animal feed company located in Montreal, of its selection of Wicomico as the site for its expansion into the United States.

Tax sales returns

The county made the decision to forego a tax sale last year, exercising an option permitted by state law. In doing so, other choices were made to help the taxpayers with the cost of their properties being brought to the sale.

Advertising costs were markedly less by advertising in The Daily Record reducing this annual cost of $75,000 annually to $2,500 this year.

The Daily Record was available in the Government Office Building and each municipality had them available in their offices. Those properties that were being sold were also listed on the county’s website at wicomicocounty.org.

Both the website and The Daily Record were updated weekly.

There were 76 bidders who participated in this years’ tax sale which yielded 33 percent more participants than the average attendance over the last five years.

Forty-four bidders were successful. The properties sold yielded $757,526 in back taxes.

Of the $1,318,520 still owed, $800,150 is for taxes owed to the towns including expenses such as demolition and grass cutting.

Repeal of Impact Fee

In an effort to help stimulate the economy and make the cost of homeownership less expensive, we proposed eliminating the Impact Fee for County residents.

Since I was first elected County Executive, I have pushed for this and for most of my term we have had a moratorium in place.

In November, the County Council voted to permanently repeal the Impact Fee. In particular, the elimination of this fee will help offset the cost associated with implementing the state mandated installation of sprinklers in new homes.

During 2017, 73 building permits with an estimated construction value of $14 million were issued for construction of new single-family residential dwellings in the unincorporated portion of Wicomico County. As compared to 2016, this represents an increase of 36 percent in building permits issued for this sector of the construction industry.

Airport improvements

The Salisbury-Ocean City: Wicomico Regional Airport continues to move forward both inside and outside.

The inside of the airport has a new baggage belt system, baggage scanning equipment for Transportation Security Administration, new generator for back power and the new passenger lounge in the terminal.

The outside of the airport has our new branding on new signage. We removed three condemned T-hangars.

The ground has been made ready for a new 38,000 square foot corporate hangar and new pavement has been placed for two of the six taxi-lanes that surround the hangars.

The remaining four taxi-lanes will be paved in the spring. We also received Federal Aviation Administration approval for our new UAS-Drone calibration facility and 10,000-square-foot hangar.

Also, we have a new Airport Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF) contract in lieu of an agreement since 1984 with Piedmont to provide firefighters for required aircraft rescue and firefighting services.

Our new Master Plan update is almost complete, with a new ARFF Building, Snow Removal Equipment Building, a runway extension to 8000 feet and a new cargo ramp.

We have added a new maintenance facility for our field maintenance staff and their vehicles to provide them a proper work environment.

The runway was redone to reinforce the concrete to be able to carry heavier loads.

Work is also under way on a FM required mini Master Plan to examine the impact of the Salisbury-based Piedmont airlines introduction of Embraer regional jets to the airport.

Planning has begun to accommodate the new jets which will require a 600-foot runway extension on Runway 1432.

We also signed an agreement with the city of Salisbury to extend municipal water to the airport to both improve water quality and boost future economic development.

The airport and the business park have been incorporated into the Enterprise Zone, allowing for tax credits for businesses. We are also exploring options for a pilot school with the University of Maryland Eastern Shore to help funnel good pilots to Piedmont airlines and other regional carriers that are experiencing a pilot shortage.

Public schools/education

During the year 2017, the county continued its support of education in all its forms. The fiscal year 2018 operating budget adopted in June 2017 included increased funding to both the Wicomico County Board of Education and Wor-Wic Community College.

Capital investment in our educational facilities also moved forward with $8.108 million set aside for the following BOE priority projects: the replacement of the West Salisbury Elementary school; improving the Mardela Middle/High school track; the renovation/replacement study of Beaver Run Elementary school, and; renovations to the Delmar Middle school.

Additionally, the Executive’s proposed Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) submitted to the County Council on Dec. 5 proposes funding in the amount $7.365 million for the following BOE priorities:

  • Delmar Elementary renovations.
  • Beaver Run Elementary renovation/replacement.
  • Glen Avenue Elementary renovations.
  • Pinehurst Elementary roof replacement.
  • Mardela Middle/High School track and field.
  • Wicomico stadium lighting
  • Wicomico High School auditorium retrofit.
  • Parkside High School auditorium retrofit.

Wor-Wic Scholarship Plan

The Wicomico Economic Impact Scholarship was proposed by me and adopted by the Wicomico County Council in June 2016.

The program is a long, term investment in the county’s economic development by helping residents overcome difficulties in financing their education by providing last dollar funding for qualified applicants.

The intent is to increase the percentage of Wicomico County’s working,age population with a college degree and to increase the skills of local graduates. This will help support existing businesses and recruit new businesses to the community.

This program will raise the standard of living of the participants by making them eligible for higher wage jobs in the community. Many students already eligible to attend Wor-Wic for free utilizing federal and state financial aid are realizing that obtaining a college degree is possible as a result of the WEIS program, at no cost to the county.

In its first year, the WEIS program made college a reality for students that believed a college degree was financially out of reach.

A total of 131 students applied for the program in 2016 and 84 students met eligibility requirements.

A total of 1,166 college credits were successfully completed by program participants benefiting them as they pursue employment, or in transferring those credits to a four-year college or university.

At the start of the program’s second year, 183 students applied for the program from the class of 2017 with 65 meeting eligibility requirements and enrolling.

Over 70 percent of students in the first WEIS cohort and 80 percent in the second cohort were eligible to attend Wor-Wic for free without County assistance. It was the incentive of free community college tuition offered by WEIS that helped them realize earning a college degree is attainable. In its first year, the program only cost Wicomico County a total of $39,037.42 — a small investment that will have positive, long-term outcomes for our county.

A third cohort will be recruited over the 2017-2018 academic year.

The county’s return on investment years from now will be substantial as students graduate, live and work in Wicomico County and create a more educated workforce that can attract and retain businesses in years to come.

Public Safety

The Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office, Community Action Team’s main mission is to combat the illegal drug epidemic and to seek and locate criminals involved in major crimes. During 2017, the CAT unit conducted an astounding 1,341 traffic stops, 370 reports and 151 criminal arrests. The CAT unit has conducted numerous investigations involving the use and sale of Controlled Dangerous Substances (CDS) in our community which resulted in the arrests and successful prosecutions of suspects. CAT has been able to further these investigations by surveillance, interviews of witnesses, interviews of suspects and other investigative techniques.

As a result, the CAT unit has composed many search and seizure warrants which resulted in the recovery of heroin, crack cocaine, cocaine, money, CDS manufacturing equipment and other property. The CAT unit has been successful in combating the CDS sales and use in Wicomico County.

The CAT received recognition from the Maryland Sheriff’s Association for their efforts in the area of crime prevention.

Morris Mill Complete

This year Public Works wrapped up the Morris Mill water project, providing clean drinking water to nearly 300 households.

In 2012, it was determined that groundwater in this area was contaminated with the industrial solvent Trichloroethylene.

Through a partnership with the Maryland Department of the Environment and the United States Department of Agriculture/Rural Development, funding was obtained to bring municipal water from the city of Fruitland to the impacted homes.

This project included the installation of over 7 miles of water main and a 500,000-gallon water storage tank.

Improving quality of life

The Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism executed several events to commemorate Wicomico County’s 150-year anniversary.

On Aug. 19, the Parade of Towns, which included town delegations, local high school bands and elected officials, marched through the Wicomico County Fair at WinterPlace Park.

The Brothers of the Brush facial hair growing contest returned after 50 years for the 150 Year Celebration. The celebration culminated the weekend of Parade of Towns at the Wicomico County Fair, with beard contest judging, the up lighting of the historic downtown courthouse and the Sensational Sesquicentennial Gala put on by the Greater Salisbury Committee.

In addition to the 150th Year Celebration, the Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism made significant progress on facility enhancements across the county:

  • The Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex expansion, which began in 2017, included the installation of four synthetic turf baseball/softball diamonds, addition of field lights on two fields, new dugouts and many other park amenities, solidifying the Athletic Complex as the premier baseball/softball facility in the region.
  • The Youth & Civic Center renovations made significant progress in 2017. The arena lobby and meeting spaces received new wall coatings, new carpet, improved lighting and upgraded seating areas. Additional building improvements included modernized audiovisual equipment, portable sound system upgrades, LED lighting upgrades, and the replacement of an arena chiller.
  • Arthur W. Perdue Stadium renovations continued to progress in 2017 as a brand-new video board was installed along with brand new seats, improving the overall fan experience.

Much-needed improvements were also made to the facility structure, including seating bowl repairs, steel and masonry repairs, and other structural improvements.

In 2018, the county is expected to complete the list of 20-year lease renovation projects and will also replace the stadium flat roof.

  • The Parks Division remained active in park improvement projects in 2017 (i.e. new play modules, court resurfacing, painting projects, etc.) including projects at Cedar Hill, Leonard’s Mill, Cherry Beach, Centennial Village and Adkins Mill, among other landscaping improvements across the county.

A new amphitheater was also installed at Pemberton Historical Park, which can be utilized for various programs and school groups

While facility improvement was a major theme of 2017, the Department continued to have a significant impact with community events.

  • The annual Good Beer and Autumn Wine festivals had a combined attendance of Pouring Wine ot Wicomico County Wine Festival nearly 6,500 people, which was a five-year combined high for the events.
  • The Pemberton Park Pumpkin Tour attracted nearly 1,000 people to Pemberton Park in October. This event has tripled in size since its inception in 2015.
  • The Kids Klub After School program continued to break attendance records, topping 280 registered children in 2017, a 13% growth from 2016.
  • The Kids Klub After School program was also nominated as a “Best Service Organization” by Metropolitan Magazine in 2017.
  • The Youth & Civic Center had a busy year hosting over 700 events, including the Golden Retriever Club of America National Specialty, Disney On Ice, national Broadway shows, the USSSA Eastern World Series opening ceremonies, the Mission of Mercy dental clinic, among many other concerts, shows and events.
  • Wicomico County Tourism touched 42 events in calendar year 2017. These events attracted over 100,000 attendees, which required 38,000 room nights and generated an estimated economic impact of $56 million

Public Works

The Public Works Department has been busy once again trying to ensure that our infrastructure is the best it can be.

This year, the Roads Division of Public Works resurfaced 116 miles of roads in Wicomico County including upgrading portions of Wango Road, Forest Grove Road, and Cannon Drive from tar and chip to hot mix asphalt.

In addition, more than 677 tons of hot mix asphalt was used to patch roadways.

County Roads crews also cleaned out more than 10 miles of roadside drainage swales, installed 30 cross-road pipes (averaging 40 feet long), constructed 18 storm drain inlets, and poured/formed 1,150 feet of curb and gutter.

County Roads crews assisted other departments and organizations over the year as well including cutting and clearing overgrown vegetation at Billy Gene Jackson Park for the Salvation Army. At the Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex, Roads crews rehabilitated the service entrance for the Parks & Recreation Department.

Roads crews aided the Airport by repairing fence lines and other items on a FAA inspection report. General Services division was also helped when Roads rehabilitated the road leading into their new complex.

In August, tornadoes and heavy rains led to hundreds of service calls.

The county experienced a full washout at American Legion Road and another full washout at Stockley Road. Fourteen other locations in the County experienced partial washouts. Within five days, all roads were reopened to the public.

Planning/Zoning report

Over the first 11 months of this calendar year, 593 building permits with an estimated value of $4 3.3 million were issued for building activities located in the unincorporated portion of Wicomico County.

Of which, permits issued for new stick-built single-family residential dwellings accounted for 73 permits with an estimated construction value of approximately $14 million. The remaining 520 building permits consisted of residential improvements, as well as constructing new non-residential structures and improvements to existing buildings.

The total estimated construction value for the aforementioned building permit types was approximately $29.3 million.

Opioid Epidemic

Wicomico County, just as the State and the Nation, continue to battle the heroin and opioid epidemic.

By instituting a multipronged approach to this issue that involves many agencies, we have seen a reduction in both fatal and non-fatal overdoses in this County. We are making progress but much remains to be done.

The Opioid Intervention Team (OIT) was formed in April 2017. This team includes multiple agencies corning together each month to develop strategies to address the epidemic.

The state provided funding this year and with this funding an Opiate Coordinator position was developed, Naloxone training was expanded and media campaigns were developed.

Looking forward

As 2017 comes to a close, I am proud of our accomplishments and excited about our future.

While there is still much to do, I am confident that the county is in a strong position.

Our fiscal health is strong, our economy is thriving, and our future is bright.

I thank each and every one of you for your efforts and contributions which make Wicomico County such a wonderful place to live and work.

Bob Culver is County Executive of Wicomico County.

 

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